Undercurrents
by Nancy Darryl, contemporary (2006)
Champagne Books, $6.00, ISBN 1897261306


Having written contemporary romance comedies and humorous romantic suspense, Nancy Darryl tries a more straightforward kind of romantic drama with Undercurrents. I also must say it's her most successful work to date. This story is like a soap opera crossed with a Danielle Steele novel with some Nancy Drew investigative sleuthing going on, and, as bizarre as that sounds, it actually works like a charm.

Hayley Carmichael was a resident nurse until life dealt her enough lemons to cause her to sink into clinical depression. Having lost her job and her home, she fell for the charms of Brody Todd, a famous DJ, and said yes when he asked her to marry him. It's probably not wise to get involved with a man so soon but hey, I can understand the need for some TLC. Hayley moves in with Brody and all is well until Brody leaves her, supposedly to be a celebrity speaker at his alma mater. Hayley is afraid to be alone so she decides to surprise Brody by getting his home address in St Augustine, Florida and showing up there.

Quickly, she realizes that Brody's mother Eleanor has no idea that Brody is even engaged even though Brody told Hayley that he'd told his family about Hayley. Not only that, Brody doesn't seem to have any speaking engagement like he said he had. Also, Brody told Hayley that his mother was dead. Oh no, what is going on here? Meanwhile, Hayley also meets Drake, Brody's twin brother. In case you're wondering, Drake and Brody are named after characters from Days Of Our Lives. At any rate, Drake is not a very nice man. He's balding, thinks his testicles are not functional, and cheats on his wife Meredith. When Meredith realizes that she's pregnant, she decides to seek out the daughter that Drake may or may not fathered on a woman that he had an affair with in the past in order to lay down to rest some troubling questions she has about her marriage tp Drake. Hayley also gets a romantic subplot in the form of Jordan, the cousins of Brody and Drake. Meanwhile, there's a possible haunting in the house that requires Hayley, a big Nancy Drew fan, to do some sleuthing.

Undercurrents is one of those oddball stories that has to be read to fully appreciate all its quirks because I cannot fully describe here the... well, character of the story. The best I can do is that while the story could have been a lumbering and clumsy mishmash of all kinds of things, there is actually method behind the madness even when the story takes a turn for the outlandish at times. There's smuggling (maybe even drug smuggling, oh my goodness), secret passages, paternity issues, and more. It's like a carnival, this story.

One thing Ms Darryl does very well here is her lead female characters. Hayley is not very convincing as an emotionally needy woman at the start that transforms too easily into a confident woman once she befriends the Todd women, but on the whole she is a very smart heroine who doesn't take crap from anybody and is smart enough to put two and two together. She also displays vulnerabilities and her actions towards the end, while rather clichéd, make sense considering that she's supposed to be an emotional mess of a woman. However, the author often turns on and off Hayley's emotional neediness that Hayley often comes off like two different people - the needy woman versus the kickass babe - rather than a coherent character. Nonetheless, I like Hayley throughout her Jekyll and Hyde character swings. Meredith also makes a pretty decent character who develops a spine as the story progresses as a result of her soul-searching. Eleanor isn't a stereotypical matriarch in that she comes off like a pretty real person rather than a one-dimensional dotty matchmaker or a one-dimensional bitch from hell.

The men on the other hand are weak characters compared to the women. Drake is an arrogant fool, Brody is a dumb fool, and Jordan is not strong enough as a character to make much of an impact other than Hayley's consolation prize for her trip all the way to Florida.

A big reason why I enjoy reading Undercurrents is due to the manner in which Ms Darryl manages to incorporate all kinds of elements from soap opera to Nancy to Danielle Steele novel clichés while managing to balance the right amount of camp and solemnity in the process. The strongly drawn female leads are another plus and I really wish the male characters have been written to be just as memorable as the female characters. In all honesty, Undercurrents will probably not hold up if one scrutinizes the plot for complete logic since some of the plot elements are really far-fetched. In fact, the beginning, the middle, and the late parts of the story sometimes feel as if they belong to different books. However, things nonetheless come together in a most entertaining manner. After all, this story feels like a soap opera at times, and heaven knows a storyline in a soap opera isn't the most logical in the world. Come to think of it, I'm quite disappointed nobody gets amnesia in this story, heh.

All in all, Undercurrents is a quirky and eccentric oddball story that entertains me well. It's different, it's unpredictable in a goofy manner, and somehow, even when things could be most absurd indeed, the absurdity seems to be just part of the charm!

Rating: 86


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